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Welcoming & Empowering New Neighbors Builds a Stronger Community-wide Family: UnidosNow’s Parent Leadership Program

By Marnie Howell, Parent Leadership, Parent Leadership Director

Imagine a class where adult learners convene to gain skills that help them better navigate, and contribute to, their new country and community. Their countries of origin are Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Japan, Jordan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Ukraine, and Venezuela. They join UnidosNow’s Parent Leadership program to learn language and life skills needed in the U.S. to help propel them, and their families, to success. Our parent leaders reflect the multicultural quilt that is our nation.

Our Parent Leadership program at Gocio Elementary School in December 2019.

“How do you say hello in Arabic?” “Why do you call your child papacito?” “What are avocado leaves good for?” These are questions that pop up in class. Often, there are three languages going back and forth, including English. Enthusiasm and body language fill in the gaps.

This pandemic has opened-up new and different opportunities for interactions. UnidosNow is no longer in the classroom itself, but operates virtually and, if needed, in person, masked- up and following CDC guidelines. In the spring of this year, many of our families found themselves without jobs, confronting financial crises that impacted their ability to cover rent, utilities, and food. UnidosNow, in collaboration with community partners, stepped in with a temporary emergency fund. Additionally, one of those partners, Harvest House, provided boxes of nutritious food for our families over many weeks.

Realizing that some of our families had no transportation to receive food boxes, nine individuals within our organization, volunteered to be drivers. However, more than food arrived at the doorsteps of those who could not drive. New friendships were forged, as in the case of Adriana and Kateryna. Although both were participants in our Parent Leadership program, they had never met in person. Adriana, who was a pediatric nurse in Venezuela, was eager to help with any deliveries. Kateryna, an elementary teacher in Ukraine, was grateful to receive some of those deliveries. In her words: “I have an interesting, wonderful life. I would never have thought I would be part of a Latin American family.” It is difficult to put into words all the aspects of our Parent Leadership Program, but one thing is for sure: it’s not just about learning English.

One of the last Parent Leadership meetings of 2020.

Through the program, parents build trust and community with UnidosNow and among each other. The program recognizes and fosters the parents’ social capital, which emphasize, and draws upon, all of the strengths and abilities they have brought with them to their new community. So, while they have the opportunity to learn about local community resources and the US education system, they also share their gifts and talents with their new neighbors and lend peer support to other parents.

And, as we are living Life in the Time of Coronavirus, it’s more apparent than ever that we, as a community, need, value, and deeply benefit from good neighbors!

Together in the Distance. Our Parent Leadership Program Participants Stay in Touch

By Marnie Howell, Parent Leadership Coordinator

When we couldn’t attend a classroom, our Parent Leadership group created a WhatsApp group for our classes at Gocio and Tuttle elementary schools. We found a new way to connect with students, and our site has been unbelievably busy.

Our daily communication consists of a small lesson that’s posted in the morning. Some of our favorite themes have been flowers, recipes, specific foods, history behind holidays and celebrations, and lessons parents can do with their children.

We also use the group to post news of locations of food banks, where masks are being handed out and any other critical information. Our participants have become very adept at using new technology, and are constantly sending pictures of the food they’ve received, wishing each other happy birthdays, as well as uplifting each other in any way they can.

Here are some comments from our moms about what this online tool has meant for them:

“It is very fulfilling for me opening up a chat and that someone is always there wishing well, or sharing something good, or learning something in this beautiful group; all that happens to me. So when I open WhatsApp, this is the frist chat I open… I miss you.” |“Es muy satisfactorio para mí abrir un chat y que alguien siempre esté deseando algo bueno o compartiendo algo bueno o estar aprendiendo algo en este bello grupo; me pasa todo esto. Así que cuando  abro el WhatsApp, el primer chat que abro es este… Las extraño”.

“Personally, I want to thank you, for the teaching, the time shared, and your dedication to continue giving your best to us every day. Thank you. I’ve enjoyed and made the most of each class, and learned new things.” | “Personalmente quiero agradecerle,  por las enseñanzas, el tiempo compartido,  y su gran dedicación a seguir cada día dando lo mejor de ustedes hacia nosotros. Gracias. He disfrutado y aprovechado cada clase, he aprendido cosas nuevas”.

Gocio’s Families Together Program

Photography by Karen Arango, karenarango.com

Proud parents of our Families Together program at Gocio Elementary School had their graduation ceremony. This program has been made possible thanks to the support of the 2Gen fund of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Gocio Elementary school students and their proud principal Mr. Royce attended the ceremony as well as Roxie Jerde, John Annis, Terri Vitale, Nelle Miller, Rick Gomez, and Rebekah Leopold of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

2Gen Partnership Empowers English Language Learners

Thanks to support from the Community Foundation of Sarasota County’s 2Gen initiative, UnidosNow and the Salvation Army have been able to implement an innovative English language instruction program for the Salvation Army’s Impact Families participants. Two ESOL-certified teachers lead this project. The adult English Language Learners, who attended the summer program, demonstrated an average of 60% gains in post-test results.

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Financial Aid Workshop

On Thursday, July 22nd, we prepared a great financial aid panel to guide our students through it.

Another way to guide our students to succeed is through providing information about financial aid available, as well as private scholarships. Joan McCaw,Manatee Community Foundation, Katie Flick, USF Financial Aid Manager, and Evan Jones, with the Selby Foundation, provided excellent information and tips to apply for scholarships and how to fill out a FAFSA application.

They provided excellent information about financial aid available, as well as private scholarships. The audience was very engaged and asked a lot of questions, getting ready for their college journey.

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Career Panel at the Future Leaders Academy

On Thursday, July 14th, the students and parents of the Future Leaders Academy enjoyed an exceptional career panel at the Selby Auditorium of the University of South Florida.

Inspiring professionals in Sarasota and Manatee counties shared their career journey and their passion: Kelly Rodenas, Attorney at Law; Mireya Eavey, President United Way of the Suncoast, Sarasota; Dr. Xavier Sevilla, Physician; Neil Comber, Corporate America Executive; and Martha Lopez, Musician.

The parents and scholars participation during the workshop was outstanding, and they came out of it with a new perspective on careers and how to follow your passion.

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